Kachin Refugees are Facing Food Shortages in Burma

A Kachin child at a temporary shelter for refugees in Laiza, Kachin State. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

A Kachin child at a temporary shelter for refugees in Laiza, Kachin State. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Despite the positive changes that have emerged under the new government led by President Thein Sein, critics say much more needs to be done before refugees can return to Burma and peace and security become a reality for Burma’s citizens.

Case in point, thousands of Kachin refugees are facing food shortages as fighting between Burmese troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has escalated, preventing UN aid agencies from transporting supplies to camps along the Sino-Burmese border. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) sent aid in March and April, but has been unable to do so this month because the government army has stepped up its offensive near Laiza, the headquarters of the KIA, according to the Kachin relief group.

With no end to the conflict in sight, there are also growing concerns about how the refugees will cope in the coming rainy season. So it is not surprising that a dozen ethnic armed groups, including those who have signed preliminary ceasefire agreements, like the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) that urge the US and Europe to keep their sanctions on Burma. These ethnic leaders realize that Burma’s military shouldn’t be rewarded for ongoing aggression and human rights abuses.

“It is necessary for the international community to oppose and pressure the [Burma Army] for its wrong actions. They are calling on the international community “not to suspend or lift the remaining political, military, financial and economic sanctions.”

The UNFC have now set a deadline of June 10, 2012: If the Burma military doesn’t’ stop its aggression by then, the other existing ceasefire agreements will possibly be suspended.  This could lead to a complete breakdown of ceasefire talks and a widespread escalation of violence in Burma.

“The US government should not reward the Burmese government’s nascent and untested changes by allowing an unregulated business bonanza,” John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

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